Snowy sidewalks and streets leave people in Yellowknife stranded

The state of sidewalks in Yellowknife on Nov. 17, 2022. (Travis Burke/CBC - image credit)
The state of sidewalks in Yellowknife on Nov. 17, 2022. (Travis Burke/CBC - image credit)

Inuk doesn't wander far from her home in Yellowknife when the snow falls.

Icy paths and snow piles along sidewalks and in parking lots have made the city difficult to navigate and an absolute nightmare for people who have a walking impairment or disability.

"I worry about slipping and falling all the time, and I have high anxiety in the winter time because of the ice and businesses or buildings that have snow or ice," the artist, who goes by Inuk, said.

Despite using a walking stick with metal spikes at the bottom in the winter, Inuk said she has fallen on icy Yellowknife sidewalks.

"No matter what winter boots that I'm wearing or if I had a walking stick in each hand with spikes on it, it is just not safe," Inuk said.

Submitted by Inuk
Submitted by Inuk

The situation is not unique to the Inuvialuit artist, as northerners took to Facebook's Yellowknife Rants and Rave page recently to rant about the hazardous snowy situation. Two posts ranting about the "dangerous level of snow accumulated" and "the fact nothing is ever shovelled" garnered more than 130 people weighing in on the issue.

Yellowknife's sidewalk clearing rules require snow and ice clearing only on properties with sidewalks along Franklin Avenue, from Matonabee Street to 57th Street, and those within what's called the Central Business District, which encompasses most streets and avenues in the downtown area.

Residential properties outside those areas are not mentioned in the city's sidewalk cleaning bylaw.

Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty confirmed there are no rules requiring residents to shovel their sidewalks outside of the downtown, but said the city encourages Yellowknifers to "be good neighbours."

Council has considered a city-wide residential sidewalk shoveling bylaw in the past, Alty said, but the focus has been on downtown.

"That's where the most foot traffic is, but if it is something that residents would like to consider, then by all means it can come to Council and it can be expanded to be citywide, Alty said.

Walk at fieldhouse, mayor suggests

Alty acknowledged Yellowknife can be a difficult city to navigate during the winter.

"That is why we prioritize a lot of our funding for indoor recreation facilities," Alty said.

"So that in the more difficult months where it might be difficult to walk on the sidewalk and a little more treacherous, you can come into the field house and go for a walk there."

Charles Dent, the chair of the Northwest Territories Human Rights Commission, said you don't need to be in his position to see the situation on the streets.

"Many days in the wintertime, when you're walking down the street, it's tough to walk. And then just try to imagine what it must be like for somebody who is mobility-impaired," Dent said.

Dent said the commission often see complaints related to discrimination based on disabilities, but said acts like shovelling your sidewalk could go a long way to help make the city more accessible.

"Think about what it would be like for you if you have mobility issues and you're trying to get around Yellowknife in the winter, then maybe you'd find a way to shovel your sidewalk a little bit more quickly or make sure all of the ice is gone," Dent said.

Submitted by Stephen Petersen
Submitted by Stephen Petersen

Stephen Petersen also voiced concerns about the state of the sidewalks in the city.

Petersen, who has lived in Yellowknife since the '70s, said he was partially paralyzed in 1988 and started using canes and walkers to help with his mobility.

Working in the downtown core with an office located on Franklin Ave., Petersen said he switches to a walker when there is snow on the ground.

Submitted by Stephen Petersen
Submitted by Stephen Petersen

"I think you wouldn't have a real chance if you were in a wheelchair or crutches, or with a cane, even. You'd probably just say, 'Screw it, I'll just stay home,'" Petersen said

While Petersen manages to get to work by driving his vehicle downtown and using his walker the rest of the way, he said the city could be addressing the snow in a more timely fashion.

Petersen said he has been trying to join the city's Accessibility Advisory Committee to give feedback to council, but has not been able to join.

"There should be a way to address the accessibility issues."

Accessibility committee created, but not running

Last August, the City of Yellowknife adopted an accessibility policy with the purpose of ensuring equal access and participation for all residents regardless of their abilities.

At the same time, the Accessibility Advisory Committee was created, but it remains inactive, city officials confirmed.

"Despite numerous advertisements, the City has not yet been able to fill it. Due to the lack of member applications, the City also sent letters to approximately 50 different groups inviting member suggestions," Kerry Thistle, director of economic development and strategy with the city, wrote in an email.

But you don't need policies or committees to be kind, Inuk said.

Offering a helping hand can make a world of difference.

"If you see somebody that has slipped and fallen, don't just walk by them," Inuk said.

"Stop and ask them if they are OK and if they need any assistance, because it's a bad enough feeling when you fall down but it's even worse when you see one person walked by you without even saying, 'Hey, are you OK?'"